How to benefit from eLearning in the public sector

There has been a huge rise in online learning within the public sector. Paul Lancaster, head of development at Vensight Learn examines why so many organisations are making mistakes when it comes to putting training online, and the best ways in which the public sector can utilise online learning.

Posted 4 May 2023 by Christine Horton

With new demands to upskill and re-skill people working in the UK public sector, and long-term pressure on training budgets, online learning is increasingly being used to meet these challenges.

Woman studying at laptop

This move to online learning has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced many public sector bodies to shift to remote working and online learning in order to comply with social distancing regulations and maintain essential services.

There are a range of ways online learning are being used, including for long term, continuing professional development (CPD), that has traditionally been delivered in-person at significant expense, through to smaller scale ‘micro-learning’ where people may need updates or refreshers on processes, procedures or policies. This can include things like cyber-security, health & safety and GDPR.

People working in the public sector are able to access these on dedicated learning systems or even on open access platforms like YouTube, and view this content on devices like their laptops or mobile phones. Learning content can take a range of forms from videos and tutorials to interactive quizzes and case studies.

For example, the UK government has launched the ‘Digital Learn’ initiative, which provides free elearning materials for a range of topics, from cybersecurity to financial literacy. Other organisations, such as the National Health Service (NHS) and the Department for Education, are also increasing their use of elearning to provide training for their staff, even setting up online learning portals and ‘Academies’.

The opportunity

There are several benefits to delivering training and learning programmes online, both for the public sector itself and for its employees and stakeholders.

For the public sector itself, online learning offers the chance to deploy learning programmes and training at scale. People don’t need to be in the same room at the same time and they don’t need tutors to be in there with them. This also means these programmes can be much more cost-effective, with most of the outlay being right at the beginning, designing and producing the course materials. Because these courses are delivered online, it also means these materials can be used for many years in the future, often with minimal updates, again saving on ongoing costs.

For people and stakeholders online learning offers far more flexibility. People are able to take part in learning programmes and training at times that work best for them. They are also able to be flexible in how they learn. For example, some people prefer to learn in small chunks and perhaps go over the learning content several times. Others may prefer to go through a full programme then go off and ask questions.

Online learning also makes learning programmes far more accessible. People can now access far more different programmes and learning content, which is particularly significant bearing in mind the new demands on people as their roles and organisations adapt at pace. Many professional development programmes were previously too expensive to deploy at scale, but with online learning, these opportunities to develop and learn are much more available.

This can also help to develop a culture of continuous learning and development within an organisations, which can also make a huge difference to the happiness of employees and the effectiveness of the work that they do.

The challenges

Online learning is not without its challenges if not approached correctly. It’s important to be mindful of these when planning or designing a new eLearning programme.

Without an instructor or peers ‘in the room’, it’s essential that the course gets and keeps their attention and is very much an active experience rather than a passive one. There are a range of design best practices for how to structure and deliver these programmes, specific to online learning, that will help to do this. This includes breaking up the course into manageable bitesize chunks, being clear at the outset why this training matters and what it means for them, paying attention to the production quality and dynamism of the content, even when subjects can appear dry, and offering opportunities for learners to feedback and ask questions where they need some support.

For many online courses, having courses running wholly online, without any tutor or peer support, may not be the most effective way to run the programme. This is generally the case for longer term programmes on more complex subjects, where learners will need this additional support. This can come in the form of things like weekly check-ins on Zoom or online quizzes or forums.

The Future

Online learning will play an increasingly important role in the UK public sector. It offers a range of advantages, including cost savings, flexibility and interactivity, while also helping to ensure that learning materials are engaging and accessible. However, there are also certain drawbacks to eLearning, such as the potential lack of engagement and the difficulty of providing appropriate support to remote learners. This will all need to be considered when designing these programmes and choosing the most appropriate people and technology to deliver them.